Review: Constructing Utopia: Books and Posters from Revolutionary Russia at the AGO.

February 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

Adolf Iosipovich Strakhov (AGO)

New forms of avant-garde design and media developed in the course of the Russian Revolution (1917) and a distinctive style of propaganda art arose during the Soviet Era. Constructing Utopia: Books and Posters from Revolutionary Russia (1910-1940) at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) showcases some examples of these changes. While the exhibit does not contain some of the more famous works from the period, it does feature some minor works by artists like Vladimir Mayakovsky, Alexander Rodchenko, Vladimir Lebedev and Kasimir Malevich. Yet some of the most interesting works featured were created by unknown Russian artists, a testament to the collective mentality of Soviet Russia.

Contained in only one room, the relatively small exhibit presents the rapid social and economic changes the nation experienced. While the posters pertaining to different Soviet propaganda campaigns are displayed on the walls, the various Russian avant-garde movements are represented through the collection of books and drawings.

The posters range from the distinctive Soviet red and black graphic to a style inspired by Russian folk. Vladimri Ilannikov’s interesting works have a distinctive folk influence and contain ludicrous and almost comical titles like, “Do not think, my dear, I am only pretending / I am very much interested in the labour movement.” On the other hand, Adolf Strakhov’s “Lenin” is exceptionally characteristic of the bold Soviet propaganda style and features an iconic figure of the era.

Kasimir Malevich (AGO)

In contrast, the books focus around avant-garde movements in turn of the century Russia, which were influenced by the innovative techniques derived from industrial production. Included are works of Russian Futurism, Constructivism and Spatial Experiments. A remarkable drawing by Vladimir Tatlin of the famous Monument to the Third International is displayed alongside other Spatial Experiments.

Though a slightly disjointed representation of the different aspects of design in revolutionary Russia, the show adequately brings together the two collections of books and posters into a more comprehensive exhibit. The books and posters highlight aspects of each other. By places the cultures propaganda alongside the work of avant-garde movements a more full understanding of the era is achieved.

Constructing Utopia: Books and Posters from Revolutionary Russia (1910-1940)
runs at the AGO until May 6.

– Sophia Farmer

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